There is a story in the Independent newspaper -- not normally one to run a religious “exclusive” -- that the Catholic Church’s policy faced with the Anglican meltdown is to do what it can to help Dr Rowan Williams to hold it together. “Pope rides to Rowan’s rescue” is the headline, with the subheading: “Vatican shuns defectors and backs calls for Anglican unity”.
The piece is provoked by comments Pope Benedict made after arriving in Australia on Sunday. While being careful not to “intervene” in the debates at the Lambeth Conference – which opens today – the Pope expressed support for Dr Williams and said the Church needed to avoid "further schism and fractures".
After talking to “Roman Catholic insiders” -- where would journalists be without us? – the newspaper is able to announce that “the Pope is leading an unprecedented drive by the Roman Catholic Church to prevent the fragmentation of the worldwide Anglican Communion” and gives three examples: (1) Benedict XVI has sent three cardinals (Kasper, Dias, Murphy-O’Connor) to the Lambeth Conference; (2) “he does not support the defection of conservative Anglicans to the Roman Catholic Church”; (3) he has been giving “behind-the-scenes support” to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s attempts to hold together the conservative and liberal wings of the Anglican Church.
The only difficulty here is the word “unprecedented”, which makes it sound like a new policy. In fact, Rome has been consistent in wanting the Anglican Church to be more unified, because it knows that the longed-for unity of the Catholic and Anglican Churches can only come about when the Anglican Church has resolved its identity crisis.
That is why speculation about the Vatican bending over backwards to accommodate disaffected Anglo-Catholics is wide of the mark. The Catholic Church does not wish to contribute to the disintegration of Anglicanism.
Another way of saying this is that communion is indivisible. As a communio, the Church must be a force for unity and integration everywhere, not just in and for itself.
But let the “Roman Catholic insiders” quoted by the Independent speak:
Roman Catholic insiders say there are two motives behind the Pope’s concerns. A decision has been taken within the Roman Catholic hierarchy that it is in its interests for the Anglican Church to maintain unity. Despite speculation about a group of conservative bishops breaking away to the Roman church, senior Catholics say such a move would be "premature", and that they are not encouraging defections. The other reason is that the Pope has developed a strong personal relationship with Dr Williams. "They get on, they are both theologians," a source said last night.”
Quite. These are friends in Christ, not rivals.